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December 6, 2023

Gilroy Garlic Festival 2019 Cook Off

When Ellen Rivera-Craddock saw her neighbor’s grandson compete on stage as a junior chef at last year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, she thought to herself: “I make a great sauce; I could do that.”

On Saturday, July 27, the 25-year Gilroy resident will get her chance, as one of eight contestants—and the only one from Gilroy—in the 41st annual Great Garlic Cook-Off on center stage at the 2019 festival.

“One of my New Year’s resolutions last year was to learn how to make sauces,” the bookkeeper and amateur chef said in an interview. “The sauce really makes the meal.”

Husband Greg Craddock and 18-year-old son Ryan Rivera sampled her “Zippy sauce” for weeks, as she perfected it for the competition. 

One hour on stage

She has to duplicate her sauce from scratch in one hour, with seven other contestants under the glare of the festival spotlight in the now-famous cooking amphitheater at Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy. preparing their own original recipes for the chance to win a $3,000 prize and the coveted garlic crown. The Gilroyan’s offering will be a Ribeye Triple Garlic Coconut Rice Bowl with Zippy Sauce.

This year, half of the finalists hail from California, including Rivera-Craddock: Robyn Price from Brea, CoCoa-Coffee Crusted Garlic and Bacon Cheesecake with Caramel Drizzle; Emily Falke from Santa Barbara, Chilies en Nogada with Roasted Garlic Walnut Sauce; Merry Graham from Newhall, Garlicky BBQ Pork Fluffy Japanese Pancake with Strawberry Sriracha Syrup.

Oregon competitors are Kim Banick from Turner, Rolled Greek Ribeye with Garlic Goat Cheese Tzatziki and Pita; Gary Exner from Wilsonville, Strawberry Tart with Garlic Shiso Cream and Yuzu Glaze.

Karen Harris from Littleton, Col., will make Stuffed Savory Beef Sopaipillas with Garlic Lime Sofrito, and Pamela Gelsomini from Wrentham, Mass., will prepare Garlicky Clam Clouds topped with Bacon and Arugula Salad.


The Great Garlic Cook-Off recipe contest has been an annual tradition since the very first Gilroy Garlic Festival back in 1979. Each recipe must contain at least six cloves of garlic. Each of the dishes will be judged on flavor, texture, creativity, appearance, and use of garlic. 

Rivera-Craddock admits she is a huge fan of Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio, who will host this year’s Gilroy cook-off at the Challenge Butter Cook-Off Stage.

In addition to Colicchio, the other judges include Jason Ryczek from Farallon Restaurant, San Francisco; Adam Sanchez, owner/chef of Gilroy’s Milias Restaurant and a previous cook-off winner; Maurizio Cutrignelli of Osteria al Mare in Monterey and Maurizio’s in Morgan Hill; Mark Segovia of Segovia Catering in Gilroy; and Diana Phipps from L’Aubergine Restaurant in Carmel.

Garlic Chef Junior

Last year’s inaugural Garlic Chef Jr. cooking competition was a big success, so youngsters will be back to do battle at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Friday, July 26. Eight aspiring chefs, ages 10-15, will be preparing their own original recipes on the Challenge Butter Cook-Off Stage for a prize worth $500.

Hosted by MasterChef Season 9 winner Gerron Hurt, the event requires each contestant to create an original baked or grilled dish containing at least six cloves of garlic.Five of the young chefs are from GIlroy: Kaiden Gonzelez, Maya Torres, Rayen Garcia, Sandra Jissel Martinez and Winston James. For more information, visit gilroygarlicfestival.com.

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